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Friday, June 5, 2015

Signs that Teach and Make Friends

We took a day off and looked at some oak woodlands
that are being restored to good health.
This one (Elm Road Woods) had excellent signage.
No one needs to be confused
(and potentially negative, because uninformed)
by why trees are being cut or why the site gets burned.

One big sign let people know that restoration was under way. Another told the story of the restoration in some detail. You can read a little - and appreciate that someone cared about what you thought. Or you can study the detail for quite a thorough introduction to an interesting site and project.

The large print 
message is welcoming. 

The first words "At first glance" set a good tone. 

They seem to say, "There's more here than meets the eye" - but in a low-key non-preachy kind of way. 

At the same time
they alert the visitor 
to a drama 
that is under way
and that the rest 
of the sign will explain in detail. 

The history of degradation and the specificity of the 88% make a clear point. It's interesting that the explanation doesn't need to fall back on questions of "aliens" or even "invasives." The problem is a lack of light. 

The statement of the goals is clear, but at least so far as the photos I took, there doesn't seem to be any mention of the trees that have to be cut, or the need for fire or herbicides. Perhaps those details are best handled through the website that's offered?? Certainly it seems good to include the excellent list of conservation partners on the project.

The fish-eye lens graphic
is a nice touch. 

what amounts to a "before" and "after" 
seems potentially reassuring 
to some people 
who might wonder 
how "drastic" 
the changes
will be. 

One feature that interested Linda and me was the richness of the understory. Stumps looked like they'd been cut years ago, and vegetation had clearly taken advantage of that extra light. Much of the vegetation below is Pennsylvania sedge and big leaf aster. In some areas the vegetation was not very diverse. 

Another feature that we noticed was many small patches of garlic mustard. In a woods like this in Cook County, we suspected that volunteers would have pulled it long ago. Linda and I provided some help in that regard.

The garlic mustard made us worry that no stewards are in love with this very lovable woods. Neither volunteers nor public use and appreciation are featured in the signage and in otherwise excellent web materials (including a fine video based on interviews with good and engaging professionals). Check them out at It would be great to have books, videos, etc. that included a great deal more detail on plants, animals, restoration techniques, and people (professional and  volunteer conservationists, scientists, neighbors, and preserve appreciators). But, to me, these Lake County Forest Preserve materials make a great contribution as we develop a "culture of conservation" in Chicago Wilderness.  


  1. I spent yesterday morning at Rollins Savanna in Lake County and I was thinking how informative and engaging their signs were.

  2. If you want to see everything you wished for above and more then you should visit Dave Brooks and Matt McBrien at Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary in Schaumburg. The best part is Spring Valley has funded most of its signs, benches, and tree plantings through donations in memorial of people who cherished the place.

    I must admit that even with good signage I still enjoy meeting and talking with a site steward. I met a nice fellow who was looking after Meacham Grove when I visited last spring. It is always nice to learn the management history when visiting a site so you can compare with what is occurring at home.

    1. Signs funded by people who cherished the place seem like a great idea. That sends an additional message.
      And, yes, signs certainly don't replace living people (staff, stewards, and others) who are good communicators. Of course, some people visiting nature would prefer to be left alone. I understand that too.

    2. I know of a sign that would be my friend.

      6/XX/20XX XX:00 am


    3. I thought the below sign was great when my wife showed it to me.

  3. I found the signage at Middlefork Savanna very informative as well. I like how they told the history of the site, what's been done to date, and what the future plans were...and they take pains to explain WHY they're doing what they're doing. Very nice.

  4. I took my son to Camp Lakota this past weekend. Above the fire place in the program center they had a sign that I thought you all would appreciate. Below a portrait of Chief Luther Standing Bear was the following quote.

    “The old Lakota was wise, he knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon lead to lack of respect for humans too.”

    Camp Lakota has high quality savanna and woodland remnants. However, this nature is suffering from lack of fire and invasive species just like all the forests, savannas, and prairies in the region.